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  • Uncle Dave Griffin

Tail of the Weak 4.17

Updated: Jan 26, 2020

Tail of the Weak is a series of insights and musical memories from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin, singer/songwriter and founder of the Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival, from Waycross, Georgia.

After The Beatles' commanding debut performance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, throwing a band together in American neighborhoods was about as common as learning how to crawl underneath your school desk during a Civil Defense nuclear drill.

Sweetbriar, 1974.  Clockwise from left rear: Ricky Alderman, Harry Tankersley, Danny Altman, Joe Shear, Billy Ray Herrin, Uncle Dave.
Sweetbriar, 1974. Clockwise from left rear: Ricky Alderman, Harry Tankersley, Danny Altman, Joe Shear, Billy Ray Herrin, Uncle Dave.

Ten years later, Billy Ray Herrin and I formed the first country rock band from Waycross, Georgia, calling it Sweetbriar. I was tapped to be the lead guitarist until we found and added a sho'nuff player by the name of Joe Shear. While Joe was a natural improvisationist, I held my own over the next few years by simply learning the lead guitar parts off of the record and committing them to memory.

Simply might be an understatement. Back in those days, I had to place the record on the turntable, set the needle onto the groove, listen for three or four seconds, find the right notes on the guitar, and repeat again and again until I had the part memorized. It was painstaking work; but, the results onstage were satisfying.

One of the first songs to which I applied this method was Elvin Bishop's “Travelin' Shoes” from his 1974 album, Let It Flow. The song, which featured the politically-incorrect lyric—I'm gonna get Hank Aaron's baseball bat and tenderize her head—clocked in at 7 minutes and 16 seconds. It took me about six hours sitting in my bedroom working out the patterns that came naturally for the Joe Shears, Bill Smiths, and Tony Casons of local, south Georgia bands.

Elvin Bishop, a natural guitarist who started out in the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in 1963, went solo five years later and in '76, scored a No. 3 hit with “Fooled Around and Fell in Love”, featuring the soaring vocals of a Cairo, Georgia-born singer by the name of Mickey Thomas.

Thomas, a fixture on the Valdosta, Georgia music scene in the early Seventies with The Jets and R.C. and The Moonpies, extended his resume by later becoming the lead vocalist for Jefferson Starship.

Sweetbriar prided ourselves in the songs we chose to replicate, which made us more than a little different from the other ZZ Top and Doobie Brothers cover bands around us. Jackson Browne's “Redneck Friend” was one such song. Featuring Billy Ray on lead vocals and Joe Shear on slide guitar, the song became a foot-stompin' show-stopper at the Cabaret Lounge in Jesup, Georgia in the early months of 1975.

“Redneck Friend” was released in 1973 on Browne's For Everyman album and featured the stellar slide guitar work of multi-instrumentalist David Lindley—who was so versatilely talented he earned the nickname “The Lindley Brothers”. Eagles guitarist-vocalist Glenn Frey sang harmony and Elton John played piano—credited on the song as “Rockaday Johnnie”, because he was in the U.S. without a work permit during the recording.

Following several personnel changes over several months in 1975, Sweetbriar added T. Wayne Scarborough, former bass player for King David and The Slaves,

and changed the name of the group to Homegrown. Through Wayne's big band experience and leadership, Homegrown was built on the harmony songs of The Eagles and a fresh, new group based out of Woodstock, New York, called Orleans.

T. Wayne, a former radio deejay at local station WAYX, knew a good harmony song when he heard one; and, after picking up Orleans' Let There Be Music album

in March of '75, Homegrown learned the title cut, along with the group's following No. 6 single, “Dance With Me”.

By October of '75, Homegrown had become Down Home Band, backing Eddie Middleton at the Inn Place and King of the Road in Valdosta; and, the twin lead guitar solos between Joe Shear and I carried on in the songs, “Jukin'” by The Atlanta Rhythm Section and Sea Level's “That's Your Secret”.

I even got to play solos—using my very own proven and lazy man's method of lead guitar memorization—on Hall and Oates's “Sara Smile”—“I Just Wanna Sing” by The Cate Brothers—and Steely Dan's ode to a prophylactic, “The Fez”.

Take that, Bill Smith.







Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin

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